Walter Arnstein / “19. Social Security and International Security” / Britain Yesterday and Today / 1983 (1st ed. 1966)

Clement Attlee with Harry Truman and Joseph Stalin at the Potsdam Conference, 1945.

1945, end of WW2 vs. Germany and Japan. United Nations. Deaths of Hitler, Mussolini, Roosevelt. 1st atom bomb detonated. Foundations of Cold War. British General Election–> welfare state.

THE GENERAL ELECTION of 1945. Churchill returns from Potsdam, 3rd and final Big Three conference. Discovers election results: Labour went from 41% (1935) to 50% of the popular vote (1945). Conservative went from 55% to 40%. Churchill resigns at Buckingham Palace, departs in chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce. Clement Attlee drives to Buckingham Palace in small family car to become Prime Minister. Labour criticized Conservatives: 1930s, they did not beat unemployment, or prevent war. July 26, 1945, 1st time among major democratic nations and British history, that professed socialist party won Parliamentary majority. 8 of 37 MPs had been coal miners. 11 had been trade-union leaders. Labour MPs once sang “The Red Flag” in House of Commons.

NATIONALIZATION and SOCIAL SECURITY. For generation, Labour party had pledged to nationalize. Nationalization meant industry operated by public corporations, like United States’ Tennessee Valley Authority. New motive: public service, rather than profit. 1946, Bank of England nationalized. 1946, coal mining industry nationalized: 800 private coal companies become 1 National Coal Board. 1946, aviation industry mostly nationalized. Nationalized island transport, docks and canals: largest nationalization, 888,000 employees. Overall, 80% British economy still private. According to one staunch supporter of nationalization, 10 years later, the most notable failure was “their inability to evoke a new kind of response from the workers whom they employ.” 1946, National Insurance Act, National Health Service Acts providing universal health care, pillars of postwar welfare state, with big effect on average peoples’ lives. Unemployment insurance. No large-scale unemployment til 1970s. Infant mortality from 14.2% in 1900, to 6.1% in 1940, to 1.8% in 1970.

AUSTERITY. Labour government nationalization and socialist planning handicapped by WW2 economic problems. Gap in balance of payments. Overseas income down £175 to £73 million since 1938. During war, Lend-Lease aid had helped. August 1945, United States ended Lend-Lease. Lord Keynes goes to Washington, requests $3.75 billion loan. Within 9 months, $1 billion spent. Stopgap at best. 1946 Labour government introduces bread rationing. Winter 1946-7, conditions at nadir. Typical day’s London Daily Telegraph headlines: “Bread rations may be cut. Peers hear review of 1947 food outlook. Less bacon and home meat. Beer supplies to be halved immediately. Snow falls in London.” Average housewife spends at least 1 hr in queue daily. Shortage explanation change, from “Don’t you know there’s a war on,” to “All the best goes for export.” Food shortage meant drabness, not starvation. 1947, government imported canned snoek, tropical South African fish. Drab, mocked. Trouble, according to one Labour Minister: “palatable, but rather dull.” Later, unsold stocks relabeled, sold as “selected fish food for cats and kittens.” 1947, gasoline for civilian cars suspended. Tobacco tax raised 43%, and for months, 75% import duty on American films. [FILM.] 1948, Marshall Plan encouraged European cooperation. 1948-51, Britain received $2.7 billion in American aid. 1948-49, gradual economic recovery. Restrictions also spawned violations. Rise of the figure of the “spiv,” smuggler, unlawful, currency exchange. Two times as many recorded criminal acts in 1948 as there were in 1937. People spoke of “crime wave.” Penguin launches “paperback revolution,” more people than ever reading books. Arnstein: ~”No new literary mood.” Most notable luminaries were prewar: Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Elizabeth Bowen. Commemorated passivity of old aristocracy, and resistance of old country families and upper middle class to engulfment by mass society. 1946, BBC begins “Third Program,” designed to uplift the masses, and appealed to about 2% total listening audience. Postwar theater reaction vs 1930s naturalism, favored free verse plays, Christopher Fry The Lady’s Not For Burning, 1949, Eliot The Cocktail Party, 1949. English film Renaissance with Olivier, Alex Guiness. 1946, BBC reintroduces TV. By end of decade, TV seemed likely to replace cinema as mass entertainment of future, as cinema had replaced music hall.

IMPERIAL TWILIGHT: ASIA and the MIDDLE EAST. Labour party had long pledged to produce self-government to India. India was becoming economic liability. From July 1945 on, question not whether, but how. Indian National Congress under Gandhi and Nehru wanted complete unity. Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s Moslem League favored separate Moslem state, Pakistan. August 15, 1947, British Parliament passed legislation granting independence. Rioting in India and Pakistan as minority Hindus in Pakistan fled to India, and minority Moslems fled India to Pakistan. About 500,000 may have died during process. In Palestine, British had been dominant since Jerusalem occupation in 1918. 1917 Balfour Declaration had pledged establishing Jewish homeland in Palestine. At same time British tried to gain Jewish support with Balfour Declaration, it encouraged Arabs in national revival vs Ottoman Empire. During WW2, Zionist aspirations for independent Jewish state up. Jewish refugees went to Palestine. British reluctant to support because did not want to alienate Arabs: wanted to maintain oil, and Suez Canal. Jewish terrorists attack British military, blow up largest hotel in Jerusalem. Anti-semetism up in Britain. 1947, United Nations votes to partition Palestine mandate, create Jewish state. Britain announces plan to withdraw in 1948. April 1948, war between Arabs and Jews. Jews win, establish defensible state. Chiam Weizmann, who helped secure Balfour Declaration, becomes 1st president.

THE COLD WAR. Postwar, American and British relations good with Stalin. Compelled 2,700,000 anti-Soviet emigres to return to Russia, where many executed and imprisoned. Germany divided into four zones: American, British, French, Soviet. 1949, American, British, French joined into Federal Republic of (West) Germany. Same time, Soviet zone-> Soviet Satellite called German Democratic Republic. Soviet Union reneges on “free elections” support, and users Red army to occupy Poland, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia. 1946, Churchill makes “Iron Curtain” speech in Fulton, Missouri. Americans begin speaking of “cold war” between Britain and Russia in the Balkans and Iran, with Americans as bystanders. Spring 1947, British government convinces Americans that British cannot prevent Greece and Turkey from falling under Soviet Influence. Truman Doctrine, America takes Britain’s place in those two countries, and commits itself to containment policy. 1948-9, Berlin airlift. United States airlift–> supplies to ground-blockaded Berlin. 1949, NATO, North Atlantic Treaty Organization: alliance of United States, Britain, Canada, states of Western Europe. Prompted by Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia, 1948. 1950, Communist North Korea invades South Korea. Under United Nations, Britain and United States combat.

THE ELECTION of 1950 and 1951. 1948, last major piece of Labour government legislation: nationalization of iron and steel industry. Beginning with 1947 fuel crisis, Conservatives criticized Labour government nationalization of iron and steel industry, specifically for putting ideology above national welfare. Labour counter-argument: production up 50% from 1938, had weathered postwar reconstruction with no mass-scale unemployment, and health insurance for all, and unemployment insurance. Election results: Labour 315, Conservatives 298, Liberals 9. Near stalemate, but party discipline–> party limped along another 16 months. Austerity rollback. 1948, bread rationing ended. 1949, clothing rationing ended. 1950, restaurant limitations removed. Rationing for milk, flour, eggs, soap ended. 1951, The Festival of Britain, celebrating “British Contributions to World Civilization in the Arts of Peace.” Commemorated 1851 Great Exhibition, but without same self-confidence. Labour unhappy with rearmament because of Korean War and Attlee’s pro-American foreign policy. 1951, Attlee calls general election. Government saw choice as between “Forward with Labour” vs “Backward with Tories.” Churchill said true choice: Labour offers a queue, where everyone takes his turn, and Conservatives offer ladder, on which everyone could rise. Election results: Conservatives 321, Labour 295, Liberals 6. Churchill again PM, age 76. Labour government accomplishments, in 6 years? Nationalized many service facilities of state, presided over dissolution of much of Britain’s Asian empire, created welfare state.

THE END of AUSTERITY. October 1951, election begins 13 years of Conservative rule, longest continuing rule of 1 party since 1832. No major policy changes, thanks to slim Parliamentary margin. Much postwar austerity framework dismantled. 1952, income taxes cut. By 1954, rationing done. Construction of houses up. National Health Services intact. Nationalized industries remained nationalized, except iron and steel.

DIPLOMATIC ACHIEVEMENT. Funeral for George VI, 1952. Coronation of his daughter Queen Elizabeth II, 1953. 1953, Stalin dies. 1953, Stalin dies, is succeeded by Georgi Malenkov. 1953, Stalin’s death helps Korean war end. 1952, Churchill’s government tests Britain’s atomic bomb. 1955, Churchill announces plans to follow United States and Soviet Union by building hydrogen bomb. 1957, tests hydrogen bomb. 1955, Churchill, 81, retires. By 1955, decade has passes since end of war. Spirit of austerity gone. Britons accustomed to absence of large-scale unemployment. Social services taken for granted. Abroad, Cold War momentarily subsided. 1956, Suez crisis will break apparent complacency of early 1950s.


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